A Soviet Genocide With Ties to the Dakotas
Tobin, Paulette. "A Soviet Genocide With Ties to the Dakotas." Grand Forks Herald, 20 October
2006, C-1 & C-3.
Vossler, Ronald Julius. We’ll Meet Again in Heaven: Germans in the Soviet Union Write Their American Relatives. North Dakota State University Libraries, Germans from Russia Heritage Collection, Fargo, North Dakota, 2001.
We'll Meet Again
in Heaven DVD
To tell the story of Stalin's genocide against millions of Ukrainians
and the Germans from Russia who were their neighbors 70 years ago,
Ron Vossler went to what some might consider an unusual source:
The small-town German-language newspapers once published in North
Dakota and South Dakota.
Vossler, a lecturer in the English department at UND and the writer
and narrator of the 30-minute documentary We'll Meet Again in
Heaven, has spent 10 years researching what he calls a forgotten
genocide against the ethnic Germans in Russia and the Ukrainian
In addition to trips to Moldavia and the Ukraine and interviews
with survivors, Vossler returned to his hometown of Wishek, N.D.,
and researched a half-dozen area newspapers, including the Wisheker
Nachrichten (Wishek, North Dakota) and the Eureka Rundschau (Eureka,
Between 1928 and 1938, these newspapers often published letters
from ethnic Germans still living in the Ukraine, written to their
German relatives who had migrated to communities such as Roscoe
and Eureka, S.D., and Bismarck, Wishek, Linton and Strasburg, N.D.
Families torn apart
Ronald J. Vossler
Those wrenching letters describe firsthand the conditions under
Stalin that led to death by starvation, forced labor and execution.
Families were torn apart as prosperous farmers were forced into
collectivism and threatened with death if they didn't make grain
quotas. In the end, their grain was taken to pay for the Soviet
Union's industrialization while they died of hunger anyway.
The Germans in Russia wanted the world to know what was happening
to them, and they begged their relatives to send them money and
food. Despite the horror of it - or perhaps because of the horror
- the story of the genocide wasn't usually spoken of to subsequent
generations in America.
Our grandparents knew all of this, but they didn't pass it on,
The sorrow letters, as they're sometimes called, included some
that were written by Vossler's relatives and others that never were
published. The history uncovered in the letters and other research
is almost unbearable. People kill themselves. Forced into cattle
cars for almost certain death in Siberia, parents tear their hair
from their heads as their children are taken from them. At night,
secret police gather victims. In the village of Gluckstahl, ethnic
Germans sneak into the ruined church at night to pray for death.
In one letter, a survivor described 40 people traveling for a week
packed into a cattle car, then being unloaded into the snow of Siberia.
If no help comes, we are a lost people forgotten by all but God,
the person wrote.
One woman interviewed for the documentary remembered when her father
and other men in her village were marched away. She was a little
girl then, and her mother packed a small wooden suitcase with a
few clothes and some food and told her to take it to her father.
After she gave it to him, she ran alongside him for a while, until
he turned to her and said, You'd better go home now.
Full of controversy
The genocide is not without controversy; it even involves a campaign
to pull the Pulitzer Prize from Walter Duranty, a New York Times
correspondent in Moscow who won the prize in 1932 for stories that
were said to show a profound and intimate comprehension of conditions
In 1932, according to a 2003 National Review Online article by
Andrew Stuttaford, Duranty was telling his readers that there had
been serious food shortages in the Ukraine, but no deaths from starvation,
merely widespread mortality from diseases due to malnutrition. Today,
some historians consider the 1932-1933 Ukranian famine, which killed
an estimated 6 million to 8 million people - as Kruschev later said,
no one was keeping count - the greatest manmade disaster in history.
Vossler believes the story of the genocide has been suppressed
by historians and downplayed at universities because it undermines
the credibility of the far left. Some academics say the letters
are unreliable because they were written under stress, Vossler said.
They totally deny these letters have any credibility, he said.
What the letters describe, he said, is the greatest demographic
disaster since the Middle Ages.
Stalin in 1928 sent hard-core Communist activists, the shock troops
as they were, the true believers, he said. Once they came in (to
the Ukraine) and took over, they drained the grain out of all those
areas, and they shipped it to the markets of the West.
All this also helps explain why the Germans from Russia communities
in the Dakotas were so conservative. There was great fear in those
communities that communism would spread and what it would bring.
This wasn't some abstract idea to the Germans from Russia in America,
he said, who knew they could get their relatives in Russia killed
if the letters they wrote to them fell into the wrong hands.
The connections are still so close, Vossler said. My stepdad's
uncles are on that list (of those who were executed). Many of those
names are familiar. It reads like a Eureka or Wishek phone book.
The Germans in America whose relatives died in Russia under Stalin
learned not to trust people who came along, like the Communists
did, and said: We're going to make everything better.
Marxism leads to the camps, Vossler said. Academics are too busy
splitting hairs to acknowledge all these bodies. But body counts
Tobin reports on arts and entertainment and coordinates the Teen
Page. Reach her at (701) 780-1134; (800) 477-6572, ext. 134; or
Reprinted with permission of the Grand Forks Herald.